Generational Equity Movement, started in 2019, is a coalition of Black-owned I-71 business owners and supporters in D.C. The businesses, also known as gifting shops, sell T-shirts, art and other merchandise while providing a free gift of marijuana. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member

Washington D.C. is the only place in the United States where marijuana “gifting shops” exist, and they derive from a 2014 voter initiative. 

Seventy percent of voters approved Initiative 71, which permitted the use of up to two ounces of marijuana and the possession and cultivation of up to three marijuana plants, and this decision made way for I-71 businesses, or gifting shops. I-71 businesses operate in a gray area of the law by selling products like T-shirts or art and gifting marijuana on the side. 

However, D.C.’s medical marijuana dispensaries, which are regulated and taxed by the government, have recently complained about losing business to gifting shops, leading the D.C. Council to launch legislative action against them.   

The Generational Equity Movement (GEM), formed in 2019, serves as the gifting shops’ defenders. The organization comprises a coalition of owners and advocates of Black I-71 businesses. 

For GEM, the cannabis industry is a way for Black D.C. residents to create generational wealth for themselves and their families. 

“Because of history, Black people have been oppressed, left behind and pushed out. Our resilience has been unlike any other in comparison to other groups, but there’s also been a lot of setbacks,” said Bree, a member of GEM. “With the [ability] to sell recreational cannabis or medicinal cannabis, it’s almost an opportunity for Black people to get involved in something that they already have expertise in.” 

Twice, the D.C. Council has considered emergency bills that would close I-71 businesses, but the attempts to close the stores have been unsuccessful, begetting major wins for GEM. Last year, verbiage that was used in the legislation, which included fines for gifting stores amounting to $30,000, was removed, and just a couple weeks ago, a bill targeting the shops was rejected by the council. 

Bree said that within the I-71 businesses community, there are both bad and good actors. Even though it would be easier for the D.C. Council to shut all of the shops down, the closures would eliminate gifting shops that have created sophisticated businesses and become staples in their communities. 

“If you ask a local person in D.C. or even someone visiting from out of town, they refer to these I-71 stores as dispensaries. They’ve already done the work,” said Bree. “They’ve invested a lot of money into their brick-and-mortar stores and into their teams. They already understand what is necessary to thrive and survive in this market, and now we just need the legitimacy behind the stores.” 

The next step for the GEM coalition is persuading the D.C. Council to regard the organization as a credible source, so that they can be a part of writing legislation that will create a clear pathway  for I-71 businesses to become legal dispensaries. 

According to Bree, if the pathway is created, D.C. is positioned to have the most equitable cannabis market in the country because of the sheer volume of Black-owned I-71 businesses in the district. 

While GEM has championed the D.C. cannabis community since its establishment, this advocacy is just the organization’s current fight. Once legislation is created that protects I-71 businesses, GEM will shift its focus to issues including education, police and gun reform. 

“I think that it would be too much to even fathom if Black people were to have the resources and the opportunity [to build] generational wealth because we’ve never had it before,” said Bree. 

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